'We're all not using': A talk with heroin addicts in the local Recovery Court program

GILFORD — While waiting for Horizons Center counselor Jacqui Abikoff earlier this week, the six current participants in Belknap County's Recovery Court program sat around a large table in a too small room and bantered.

Watching and listening to these six people — three men and three women — one conjures up a picture of the classic NBC sit-com "Friends".

But while they are friends, this is no sit-com. Heroin addicts all, the six have all been in the program for varying amounts of time but on this day, all are clean and sober. They willingly provided urine samples to prove it.

While Recovery Court participants and team members meet in Judge Jim Carroll's 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division court room every Tuesday at noon, much of the hard work is done behind these traditionally closed doors. This is the one piece of Recovery Court that cannot be skipped.

This is when they sit down and discuss how they feel, what they are thinking, and what daily obstacles they have to staying clean. Three counselors including Abikoff keep the discussions on track, because like most discussions among friends, their topics and comments tend to wander. Unlike a sit-com, their off-topic comments can cut and burn with brutal honesty.

The common thread in this group is honesty. It's actually one of the only things, short of a major crime, that can get someone expelled from Recovery Court with a one-way, non-stop ticket back to jail — handcuffs and all.

"We see it as a success if someone slips and comes immediately to get help," said one.

All admitted to lying while they were using — especially to the people they loved and to themselves. Most admitted to stealing from friends and family. All said they recognized the moment when they realized they were "junkies".

"It was easier to get high than to get healthy," said one of the women.

"When you're wrapped up and in that life style, it's your normal," said one. "When I got clean I remembered some of the things I did and I said, 'That's crazy.'"

When Abikoff asked if they felt they were still the face of addiction — all said no. "We're all not using."

They discussed the common perceptions of junkies. Many said society stigmatizes heroin addicts as dirty, foul-smelling people who stand around on street corners. They perceive them as thieves, manipulators, liars and think they not to be trusted.

One person challenged this view. He also said most of the people who are addicts that he knows are "regular hard-working people who ran into a problem."

"We're sick people," he said, nodding when Abikoff said the brain is like any other organ in the human body — over time it can heal.

One participant said he recently went to an AA meeting on the Seacoast and met a man who was celebrating 36 years of sobriety. Because most recovering addicts tend not to disclose their past because of possible negative repercussions, he said the faces of addicts are rarely seen unless it's mugshots.

"You don't see too many front page articles headlined 'Man Celebrates 36 Years Sober." he said.

He talked about one of his relatives. He said his relative drinks, takes Percocet and smokes weed but insists he's not a junkie because "I don't stick no needles in my arm."

One spoke about his time in jail. He said the word inside jail is that Recovery Court "just sets you up to fail" because it's nearly impossible to meet all the demands. He said he chose the program despite the naysayers because he knew if he went back to the world he was in he'd just start using again. When asked where he'd be right now if he hadn't entered the program, he replied he would probably be dead.

Most will attend the upcoming funeral of a friend who died recently of an overdose.

One of the biggest component, and the one most important to this group other than sobriety, is their community service. While the minimum required community for the program is 250 service hours, most of this group is well beyond that. Two of the groups members even have an ongoing rivalry about who can perform the most community service. Both are well over the minimum requirements.

"When we were using, we took something from our community," said one. "We want to give that back and have society trust us again."

Between the six of them, they have painted the fence around the Bayside Cemetery in Laconia, done all the mulching at Veterans Park and the Circuit Court House, and helped the Police Department at National Night Out.

One man works at a senior home where he helps cook. He started as a maintenance volunteer. All of them have helped some area elderly people move into homes.

Others have volunteered at the senior center, the family resource center, and the Salvation Army with one of them becoming cashier. Some are active in Stand Up Laconia.

All of them said they are busier than they ever were but in a productive way that makes them feel good. "Being busy but being in control," said one.

"We are earning the respect of our higher ups," said another, quoting Judge Carroll when he says that if you respect them (society), they'll respect you.

  • Category: Local News
  • Hits: 958

LPD using grant money to buy 9 more semi-automatic rifles

LACONIA — The Belknap County Commission and City Council this week signed off on accepting a federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) that Laconia Police will use to purchase nine additional rifles for the department.

The total amount of money for the rifles is $11,085, which Capt. Bill Clary said will bring the total rifle arsenal to 18. He said he estimated each will cost around $900 with an additional $100 to $200 for lights, slings and other equipment.

Clary said the reason the department needs a total of 18 semi-automatic 5.56 mm caliber urban patrol rifles is because the current protocols on active shooter situations is such that the first responding officers should be ready to enter a building, such as a school, and neutralize the shooter(s).

He said every officer will be trained on how to use a semi-automatic rifle and each one will be assigned to two officers at the most, mostly because of sighting issues.

A second part of the grant will allow the Belknap County Sheriff's Department to purchase speed radar units for $3,000.

  • Category: Local News
  • Hits: 616

City will restore vital records dating back to 1855

LACONIA — The 21 ledgers, in which all the births, deaths and marriages in the city between 1855 and 1937 are recorded, will be restored and preserved following the decision of the City Council this week to draw $56,000 from the noncapital reserve fund to underwrite the project.

The township of Laconia was established in 1855, from parts of Meredith and Gilford. Additional land from Gilford was added when Laconia was incorporated as a city in 1893.

City Clerk Mary Reynolds said that some of the records went missing and others were damaged on December 6, 1902 1904 when a gas leak sparked an explosion and fire at the Masonic Temple on Main Street where City Hall was housed and vital records were kept.

Reynolds explained that Kofile Preservation of Essex, Vermont will restore each page, front and back, of the 20 books. From pages where the original ink has faded to become near invisible, impressions of the pen strokes will be taken and a dye applied to restore the handwritten record. Each page is washed to remove acidic compounds that degrade paper over time. The restored page is placed in a mylar sleeve, which is sealed with a cotton barrier to keep out dust. Finally the restored pages are placed in a new binder.

Once the restoration and preservation process is complete, each page will be transferred to microfilm, which will be placed in the New Hampshire Division of Archives and Records Management, as well as a computer disc kept at City Hall. Reynolds said that with the information on discs information can be retrieved by searching by name, including the name of the physician who delivered the child or pastor who married the couple, or any other word in the particular record.

Reynolds was especially pleased that the councilors chose to restore and preserve the city's vital records. She said that Bill Stewart of Kofile Preservation told her only four municipalities counted among the firm's clients. One of the four is Gilmanton. where foresight spared the records from damage or destruction when a broken sprinkler pipe flooded the Academy Building in January.

Reynolds said that she intended to apply for a state grant of as much as $10,000 to begin restoring and preserving minutes of City Council meetings held in the early 1900s. She said her goal will be to appropriate $2,000 each year for restoring and preserving municipal records for posterity.

CAPTION: City Clerk Mary Reynolds displays the original record of births, deaths and marriages from 1855 to her left alongside a book of restored and preserved vital records to her right, together with the microfilm and computer disc on which the same information is recorded. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

  • Category: Local News
  • Hits: 545